The crammed grid of houses in the middle of Kyoto left no space for gardens. But there were plants – in pots. They stood in front of nearly every house, usually in groups by the front door. Some houses were almost surrounded by a collection of containers, all tightly packed with plants.
Before our trip to Japan I had not expected urban streets to hold particular horticultural interest. After we arrived I was immediately fascinated by the interplay of tight control and wild exuberance. – This is the first of a two-part photo essay on urban planting in Japan.
There are no prescribed routes to follow, no obviously engineered views. The remarkably sparse planting opens a multitude of angles. Walking through the garden presents ever changing compositions of shapes, textures, colours. Every visitor is invited to find their own perspective.
It is very quiet. Nothing moves. The precision of this highly fragile arrangement is breathtaking. It is the expression of a simple idea full of infinite variation. This is the most famous Zen garden in the world – Ryoan-ji.
My grandmother’s joy was most apparent the moment she returned to the house. She proudly filled vases with flowers and prepared delicious meals from the fruit and vegetables she had grown. The garden was my grandmother’s domain, her sanctuary, and the source of her self confidence.
For the past seven years the magnolia has been our borrowed landscape, a generous gift from its previous owner to the whole neighbourhood. I try not to think about its absence. After a long winter every green shoot seems like a miracle, but a whole tree covered in hundreds, maybe thousands, of large-petalled flowers is the boldest statement of renewal.
Sibylle’s garden could easily fill the cover of an upmarket style magazine. She has created the most luxurious, harmoniously balanced scene. There are a few flowers here and there, but green is the predominant colour. From the lower perennials to the climbers and not least the leaves of the Gleditsia, all foliage looks like it has been meticulously painted with a very fine brush.
“Houseplants are bought for aesthetic reasons, but then plastic flowers could have replaced them long ago,” reflects Thomas, “So there must be some reason why we think a real flower is more positive than a plastic flower.”
My garden had always felt magical, from the moment I first saw it in the company of the estate agent. But on those warm nights in high summer, with the added intrigue of the unexpectedly tall meadow, my garden seemed otherworldly.
I decided this grass mono-culture was where I would try to make a difference as a gardener. If I managed to diversify the planting in this area, it would create more beauty for my own enjoyment as well as more diverse habitats for wildlife. That would be the perfect balance of my needs and those of the ecosystem that was my garden.